Family films to see at the cinema
Fancy a trip to the cinema, but don’t know what would be fun with the kids? Here’s our up-to-date guide of family films, written by Mike Davies especially with families and kids in mind. Everything from small scale films to great blockbusters for all the family PLUS trailers for upcoming films! Please note that not all 12A films are appropriate for younger children. Let’s Go With The Children offers a guide to what’s suitable for family viewing.
New releases out now
Ugly Dolls (PG)
A line of plush toys launched in 2001, they became an overnight sensation. It’s unlikely this film based on them will follow suit. Factory rejects who get pulled off the production line and tossed down the disposal chute, the Ugly Dolls have formed their own community in Uglyville where, headed up by green one-eyed Ox (Blake Shelton), they are content and oblivious to their imperfections. However, the resolutely positive Moxy (Kelly Clarkson), a gap-toothed blob of pink, doesn’t believe that the Big World is just myth and, as the opening song announces, forever dreams of finding the child she’s intended for. Realising that new arrivals always come from a portal high up in the walls, she persuades a bunch of fellow dolls, among them canine cyclops Ugly Dog (Pitbull), and two-fanged Wage (Wanda Sykes), to join her in a quest to the other side.
Which is where the find the Institute of Perfection, a place where human-like dolls are prepared in readiness to follow their toy destinies, overseen by preening blond-haired pop star-like guru Lou (Nick Jonas) with the help of a trio of mean girls (Janelle Monae among them) each with their own insecurities. Needless to say, the arrival of the Ugly Dolls causes consternation and pits them against the tyrannical Lou.
The notion that every doll needs a child plays like a watered down Toy Story and, indeed, from the songs to the characters, everything about the film feels like a diluted version of kiddie movies you’ve already seen. The message about loving your imperfections because your flaws make you who you are is commendable, but, it just comes across like one of the Fortune Cookie mottos served up by Lucky Bat (Leehom Wang), to be read and thrown away. Pretty much like the film. 87mins
LGWTC Guidance: Dull Doll
Dora And The Lost City Of Gold (PG)
The first animation to star a female Latina protagonist, Dora the Explorer, a sort of junior wide-eyed innocent Lara Croft, ran on Nickelodeon for six years and is still screened as reruns. Now she makes her live action debut starring a charismatic Isabela Moner (from Instant Family), initially a seven year old, as in the TV series, before it cuts to her as a young teen, living in the South American jungle with her archaeology professor explorer parents (Eva Longoria and Michael Peña), who are about to embark on a quest to find the fabled lost Inca city of Parapata. Dora is disappointed to find, however, that she’s being sent on a different adventure, to high school in Los Angeles where’s she’s reunited her cousin and childhood best friend Diego (Jeff Wahlberg).
Suffice to say, after a brief dalliance with familiar high school misfit sequences, she’s abducted by three mercenaries looking to track down her parents and seize the fabled treasure. She’s not alone, also taken captive are Diego and two classmates, nerdy Randy (Nicholas Coombe) and insecure queen bee Sammy (Madeleine Madden). Arriving back in South America, they’re swiftly rescued by Alejandro (Eugenio Derbez), an old friend of Dora’s parents and, joined by Dora’s pet monkey, Boots (voiced by Danny Trejo), they set off to find her folks before the treasure hunters do.
Needless to say, the journey involves an assortment of ‘be yourself’ life lessons, a betrayal and, inevitably, the irrepressibly upbeat Dora bursting into spontaneous made up songs (including one about doing a poo in the jungle) before climaxing in the lost city as they’re confronted by its guardians.
Resolutely pitched at a young audience, there’s virtually no concessions for the grown-ups. Kids, on the other hand, should be swept up by what is, basically, a return to the old days of Saturday matinees that inspired the likes of Indiana Jones. In addition to puzzles to be solved, there’s nods to the original series when the characters inhale a hallucinatory pollen and find themselves transformed into cartoons, Boots retains his far from realistic-looking appearance and, dispensing with any notions of reality, the bad guys are abetted by Swiper (voiced by Benicio Del Toro), the masked, talking fox from the cartoons. The film even sneaks in Dora’s talking backpack. Great fun. 102 mins
LGWTC Guidance: aDORAble
The Playmobil Movie (U)
After the huge success of the Lego films, it was probably inevitable that its German rival toy bricks would cash in on things too. Her dreams of a life of adventure crushed when their parents are killed in an accident, teenage Marla (Anya Taylor Joy) is left to look after her kid brother Charlie (Gabriel Bateman), becoming something of a killjoy in the process. Five years later, wanting to have some fun, he runs off and winds up in a Playmobil exhibition and, when Marla tracks him down, they’re somehow both mystically transported to the Playmobil world and transformed into claw-handed plastic toy figures, Charlie in the form his favourite Viking warrior toy.
Separated when he’s abducted by pirates, she sets off to find and rescue him, a quest that will involve journeying through the different Playmobil realms, hooking up with Del (Jim Gaffigan), who has a mobile food truck, magic hay and a debt problem to a sort of female Jabba the Hutt, ace secret agent Rex Dasher (Daniel Ratcliffe) and a cute robot, and discovering Charlie’s been kidnapped, along other super tough warriors, as fodder for Emperor Maximus’ (Adam Lambert) gladiatorial games.
It doesn’t have the manic energy or knowing wit of the Lego movies, but it moves along at a fair lick, even if it rarely finds room for jokes to keep the grown-ups awake, as it regularly spells out its message about finding who you are and not letting life’s downers prevent you from enjoying it. There’s also a series of eminently forgettable musical numbers, one of which is performed by Meghan Trainor as a fairy godmother, who, along with assorted winged horses and unicorns, firmly underline that this is very much meant for children. They’ll probably love it, but I wouldn’t hold your breath for The Meccano Movie anytime soon. 99 mins
LGWTC Guidance: An enjoyable one-off, but you won’t want to collect them all.
The Angry Birds Movie 2 (U)
Having become the local hero after having saved Bird Island from the pigs who wanted to steal their eggs, the two islands are now pretty much at peace, former social outsider Red (Jason Sudekis), assisted by his crew, superfast Chuck (Josh Gad) and the aptly named Bomb (Danny McBride), spends his time protecting the place from the occasional prank launched by pig leader Leonard (Bill Hader). However, when a giant ice-meteor comes crashing down on Pig Island and Leonard discovers there’s a third island, populated by eagles, birds and bacon join forces to prevent purple-plumed tropical eagle Zeta (Leslie Jones) who, tired of life on her ice-bound volcanic island with a molten lava core, is intending to drive out her neighbours so she can rebuild their islands as her own twin paradises.
Rehashing the first film’s themes of friendship, self-doubt and teamwork, the follow-up introduces a new character – and some female empowerment – in the form of Chuck’s science savvy genius sister Silver (Rachel Bloom), she and Red naturally spending their time denying any mutual attraction. Meanwhile, making a return appearance is Mighty Eagle (Peter Dinklage) who, in turns out, has history with Zeta from when he was a cool punk.
As the birds and pigs, including Leonard’s female teen assistant Courtney (Awkafina), team up to find a way into Zeta’s super-villain lair, there’s also a subplot in which three fluffy hatchlings try to recover the unhatched eggs they borrowed for their game which, joined by three piglets, eventually links into the climax as well as provides a mid-credits sequence.
Also featuring the voices of Tiffany Haddish and Nicki Minaj as well as such feathery puns as a Flockbusters video store and a book called Crazy Rich Avians, it flaps along in a suitably brightly coloured, sugar rush kiddie friendly fashion complete with poop and snot jokes and a knockabout breakdance battle involving Zeta’s guards and a Trojan Horse-style eagle costume. Coming in the wake of the Secret Life of Pets and Toy Story sequels, it’s decidedly featherweight, but even so, the plumage makes for an entertaining display. 96 mins
LGWTC Guidance: In flight family fun
Horrible Histories: The Movie – Rotten Romans (PG)
From books to TV to the stage and now the big screen with the first feature film outing for the hugely successful series that takes an irreverent approach to history. More Black Adder than Monty Python (though there a sly nod to Life of Brian), this is pitched at younger audiences while still slipping in amusing references for the grown-ups, combining both in the I’m Farticus scene.
Opening with Derek Jacobi reprising his role as the stuttering Emperor Claudius, before being poisoned by his wife, Agrippina (Kim Cattrall), to enable her buffoon son Nero (Craig Roberts) to take his place, albeit with her as the power behind, and indeed on, the throne, it has teenage Roman Atti (Sebastian Croft) consigned to join the army in Britain – aka The Stain – as punishment for having passed off horse pee as gladiator sweat which the British envoy bought as a birthday present for the Emperor.
Over in Britain, where, despite constant references to rain, it seems permanently sunny, he’s taken prisoner by Orla (Emilia Jones), the daughter of a Celtic chieftain (Nick Frost) who is desperate to prove herself a warrior, and winds up helping rescue her kleptomaniac gran (Joanna Bacon) from a rival tribe.
Meanwhile, Celtic warrior queen Boudicca (Kate Nash) is leading a rebellion against the Romans which the incumbent governor, the pompous, prevaricating Paulinus (Rupert Graves) is ordered to crush.
Historical facts and observations are neatly enfolded into the amiable star-crossed lovers narrative that also amusingly involves the lyre-playing Nero’s attempts to kill his mother, his toadying adviser Sycophantus (Alex Macqueen), Legion Commander Decimus (Lee Mack) constantly pining for Rome, an over-stretched don’t shoot the messenger joke, a Roman Legion dubbed the IX Men and, of course, various toilet-related gags. All interspersed with musical numbers, including a rap battle between Bouidica and the Romans. In all honesty, it’s probably a bit overstretched as a movie, but the fun is never diluted. 92 mins
LGWTC Guidance: Historically hilarious
Lion King (PG)
It would be easy to believe this live-action film contains actual flesh and fur, earth and water. It’s hard to imagine anyone who isn’t familiar with the original, so, again opening with the Circle of Life gathering at Pride Rock, this virtual shot by shot, line by line update won’t hold any narrative surprises as, having fled the Pridelands believing himself responsible for the death of his father, Mufasa (James Earl Jones reprising his role), in a stampede, the young Simba (JD McCrary) grows into the adult lion (Donald Glover) who will eventually return and liberate the land from his treacherous uncle, Scar (Chiwetol Ejiofor). The thrill comes, instead, from seeing the characters in such three-dimensional form, the hyenas even more scary-looking while, still singing Hakuna Matata, the new incarnations of warthog Puumba (Seth Rogan) and meerkat Timon (Billy Eichner) are a delight, especially in the way the former, all bristles and tusk, trots along like dainty ballerina.
There’s no new additions, but all the familiar characters are present and correct with an impressive array of appropriately African-American vocal talent that includes Alfre Woodard as Sarabi, Simba’s mother, John Kani as mandrill shaman Rafiki, Beyoncé, in a slightly expanded role, as Nala, Simba’s childhood best friend and future love interest who not only gets to duet on Can You Feel The Love Tonight but has her own all new song, Spirit. While Shahadi Wright Joseph from the original Broadway cast is the young cub. Whether the revamp has any point beyond the technical accomplishments is open to debate, but the magic is undiminished. 118 mins Also in IMAX and IMAX 3D
LGWTC Guidance: A roaring success
Toy Story 4 (U)
The fourth and final entry pulls together the themes that have run throughout the saga for a finale that will have audiences welling up. It opens nine years earlier when Woody (Tom Hanks) and the other toys, among them Jessie (Joan Cusack) and Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen), were still owned by Andy, as he sees porcelain lamp Bo Peep (Annie Potts) being boxed up to go to a new home. He attempts to rescue her, but she insists it’s time to move on and invites him to join her. Loyal to his kid, Woody refuses.
Fast forward and his new kid, Bonnie (Madeleine McGraw) is off to kindergarten orientation and although she hasn’t played with him in weeks, Woody sneaks into her backpack to ensure she’s ok and inadvertently ends up helping her make as friend, literally, a plastic spork with pipe-cleaner arms, popsicle-stick feet and googly eyes that she calls Forky (Tony Hale). Although he’s her new favourite, Woody has to convince him that he’s a toy not trash and that he’s important to Bonnie.
At which point, the family take a road trip to an amusement park where Woody spots Bo Peep’s lamp in the window of Second Chance Antiques and discovers she’s embraced the life of a lost toy and become something of feisty empowered female riding around in a motorised skunk.
However, also in the store is Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks), a creepy vintage pull-string doll who, assisted by four ventriloquist dummy henchdolls, takes Forky hostage because she wants to replace her broken pull string voice box with Woody’s in the hope of getting a kid of her own.
What ensues are two related rescue missions involving Bo, Buzz and Jessie alongside new characters conjoined plushies Bunny (Jordan Peele) and Ducky (Keegan-Michael Key), mini-toy Giggle McDimples (Ally Maki) and Canadian stunt biker Duke Caboom (Keanu Reeves) who is plagued by a sense of failure after being discarded.
Exploring themes such as finding your purpose, self-worth, abandonment, loyalty, responsibility, selflessness, and that moving on doesn’t mean you stop loving or being loved, it will touch chords in both children and adults alike while also providing thrilling action sequences, scares, poignancy, laughs and moments of breathtaking beauty. 100 mins Also in IMAX 2D
LGWTC Guidance: From a joyful reunion to a moving parting of the ways farewell, this will take your heart to infinity and beyond.
Not all 12A films are appropriate for younger children. Let’s Go With The Children offers a guide to what’s suitable for family viewing.